Becoming Comfortable with Change

Kathy Keating Leadership

It’s highly likely that each of us wants to grow or improve in some way. We want to get better sleep, lose weight, get better at our favorite hobby, or master a new skill. Yet, when faced with an opportunity to step out of our comfort zone to grow, we freeze up, we create numerous excuses, or begin to blame others for creating mythical situations that supposedly prevent us from doing the work. Most of us are incredibly uncomfortable when faced with the unknown.

Our existing habits, that we often act on subconsciously every day, are a very comfortable place to stay. We know that if we do X, we will get Y. Even when we don’t want Y to happen, it’s a very comfortable place to stay because the alternative is unknown. What if we try something and fail? Worse yet, what if we try something and actually succeed? (Introducing a whole other set of confronting challenges!)

Choosing to be uncomfortable is something most of us won’t naturally choose, so we’ll often hold on tightly to how it’s always been.

I see this scenario play out, every single time, with employees as their company goes through rapid growth. Early stage employees are used to being part of most of the decisions being made. If they aren’t part of the decision, they know exactly who to ask to explain the decision making process to them. Early stage employees get to work through the discomfort of change quickly and directly. This situation changes pretty radically as a company grows.

About Decision-Making

There is an emotive transformation we go through when we actively participate in the decision-making process. We start from a place of discomfort because the future is unknown, we together we explore the options, and we do some research. We weigh the pros and cons, and then we decide. We trust ourselves to evaluate the facts rationally and to make the best decision.

Confident decision-making reduces stress and anxiety. The act of making a decision moves us from uncomfortable to comfortable. It also creates a space for us to both be accountable for our actions AND to stay true to ourselves. When we confidently make decisions for other people, we trust ourselves to evaluate all the pros and cons for all who are affected and make the best decision for everyone.

The further we are away from a decision, the less we trust. It’s interesting how much we trust ourselves to make the right decisions, but we don’t trust others to do the same.

As a company grows, people become teams. And teams become teams-of-teams. There comes a point where the employee doesn’t closely know who is making the decision, and they aren’t privy to the research. Additionally, decisions are becoming more complex, so understanding why particular decisions were made is often difficult to understand. When decisions are made in this environment, we are too removed from the decision maker to easily trust that it’s the right decision.

Robert Hurley writes, on Harvard Business Review, that roughly half of all managers don’t trust their leaders. It’s not surprising that distrust is so high, when we realize that the lack of information around a decision or change is a very uncomfortable place for people to be.

The further we are away from a decision, the less we trust.

Being Transparent

Companies who want to retain and cultivate trust need to find ways to replicate the transparency that happens during decision-making. We have to reach out to the employees — where they currently are — and walk them forward to the place we want them to be.

When employees are exposed to the facts behind the decision-making process — often called the context — they can better overlay how they would make the decision onto how leadership made the decision. They can move from uncomfortable to comfortable — which brings them along for the ride.

This becomes more critical as a company grows because trust is not automatic. Trust is cultivated through transparency.

Deciding to Trust

There comes a point that employees cannot be included in every decision. At this point employees need to decide if they trust the people who are making the decisions to keep their best interests at heart. When a company is transparent, deciding to trust is much easier.

Choosing to trust is a decision as well, and shouldn’t be taken lightly. We weigh the pros and the cons, and we do our research. The most important thing we can do is take leadership’s decision-making track record into account. When people have a track record of making sound decisions, they will likely continue to make sound decisions.

Letting going of ownership over the strategic decision-making process can be difficult. I’m an entrepreneur myself, a 2X founder and a 3X CTO. I’m used to making many of the strategic decisions myself. It’s in these moments, when I’m not in the position to make these decisions, that I have to decide — to decide to trust. There’s something freeing that happens when I decide to trust. I move from uncomfortable to comfortable, stress levels go down, and my sense of ownership increases.

People who thrive in mid-to-large growing companies are those who have decided to trust. The discomfort we are facing is a natural part of growth, and an indicator that we simply haven’t decided to trust.

Are the people around you really not trustworthy? Or are you simply uncomfortable with the rate of change? If it’s possible that the latter is true, then summon up some courage, take a few moments to look around, and decide who is worthy of your trust. You’ll be surprised how freeing this can be.